Keeneland is the largest market for yearling Thoroughbreds in the entire world. Their annual sales began during World War II when wartime restrictions on rail transportation prohibited Kentucky breeders from shipping their horses to Saratoga, New York to be sold at auction. The first Keeneland yearling sale was held on August 9th, 1943. Hoop, Jr., winner of the 1945 Kentucky Derby, went through the ring that day. Another graduate of the first Keeneland sale, Piggin String, went on to win a prestigious title of a different sort. After setting multiple track records from 330 to 550 yards, Piggin String was twice recognized as a Champion Quarter Running Stallion. He is one of very few Thoroughbreds to receive that honor.
Piggin String was foaled at Mereworth Farm in Lexington, Kentucky. He was by Ariel and out of Wiggle, by Pennant. Ariel was a juvenile speedster who won the Youthful Stakes and Saratoga Special. Piggin String’s dam, Wiggle, was a race-winning mare that produced five winners including Palm Island, Sun Wiggle, New Wrinkle and Pilot Star. Piggin String’s breeders were likely anticipating that the bay colt would go on to win Thoroughbred races. However, when he was consigned to the Keeneland sale, Piggin String caught the attention of Rukin and Frances Jelks. The rest is Quarter Horse history.
Rukin and Frances traveled from Arizona to Kentucky searching for a Thoroughbred colt that would cross well on their Quarter Horse mares. Rukin was a pioneer Quarter Horse breeder based in Tucson. He knew that the right kind of Thoroughbred blood would improve his program. Rukin inspected the 400 yearlings scheduled to go into the ring at Keeneland without opening his sales catalog. He wanted to find a horse that had the right conformation without being influenced by pedigree. Piggin String appealed to Rukin more than any other horse in the sale. He purchased the colt and shipped him back to Arizona to begin race training.
Frankie Figueroa broke Piggin String to ride and rode him throughout his racing career. Frankie said “he was easy to ride and we could do anything with him. We decided to run him short because Rukin wanted to prove a Thoroughbred could compete with Quarter Horses.” During the 1940s, the rules of the American Quarter Racing Association made it possible for horses of any breed to run in short-distance stakes races. Therefore, Piggin String was able to run against Quarter Horses for Quarter Horse titles. He was slow to develop and only made two starts as a two-year-old. However, Piggin String won both races in impressive fashion. His dominant performances were enough to earn him the 1943/1944 Co-Champion Quarter Running Stallion title with Texas Lad.
During the 1944/1945 season, Piggin String again made only two starts. He was considered for a second championship after he defeated Buster and Rumpus at 440 yards, but he later lost to Dee Dee in Corona, California. Although his racing schedule was light, his workouts against Queenie, a World Champion mare, indicated that Piggin String was a better horse than his record showed. His four-year-old season of racing was by far his best. Piggin String set a new track record at Rillito for 440 yards in 0:22.7 seconds and later equaled that same record. He also ran 330 yards in 0:17.5 seconds and 550 yards in 0:28.8 seconds which was the fastest time at that distance all season. Although he lost races to Miss Bank and Lady Lee, no other stallion approached his record of 12 starts, seven wins, and two seconds for the year. Therefore, Piggin String was named the 1945/1946 Champion Quarter Running Stallion.
Piggin String was racing during an era in which Quarter Horse breeders valued sprinters that could also perform in the show pen. It was for that reason that Rukin entered Piggin String in cowhorse classes at the Tucson Livestock Show. In 1945, he won the Three-Year-Old Cowhorse Type Stallion class over ten other good colts. He won the Heavyweight Cowhorse Stallion class in 1946. The November 1949 issue of The Quarter Horse Journal had this to say about Piggin String: “His conformation closely resembles ideal Quarter Horse conformation – the working-type horse… Combined with this nearly ideal working horse build, Piggin String shows great running power in his heavily muscled frame, a muscling that runs evenly throughout his body and which is put together on him for utilization of extreme early speed. He possesses tremendous driving power in the hind legs. He has good bone. His thigh is wide and heavy, and a thick layer of muscling makes for a powerful gaskin.”
Sadly, in the spring of 1947, Piggin String stepped in a hole during a workout. He went down hard fracturing both sesamoids and tearing his suspensory ligaments. He never raced again. His final race record was 16 starts and ten wins on AQRA recognized tracks. Piggin String had already covered mares while racing and was thankfully sound enough to continue breeding after his injury. His first foal crop arrived in 1946. It included Black Easter, a black stallion out of Arizona Girl, by Chicaro Bill. Black Easter won the State Fair Stallion Stakes in Albuquerque, New Mexico and earned the designation of Superior Race Horse. Piggin String’s second foal crop included Silhouette, a chestnut mare out of Cholla Blossom, by Ben Hur. Silhouette won the Arizona Derby, Parker 400 Handicap, Arizona Children’s Home Stakes, and Santa’s Handicap. Silhouette’s full brother, Sahuaro, won the Sheriff Echols Stakes, Nick Hall Stakes, and Stallion Stakes at Rillito.
Missy Sissy, a Thoroughbred mare by Piggin String and out of Just Sissy, by Just David, won the 1950 Raton Futurity. Miss Sissy’s full brother, Heno Sissy, was Piggin String’s best Thoroughbred starter. Heno Sissy won the Silver Stakes, Raton Futurity, Colorado Futurity, and Arizona Downs Sprint Championship Handicap. He equaled the track record at Centennial Race Track for five furlongs in 0:58.6 seconds and set a new track record at Albuquerque for five furlongs in 0:58.4 seconds. Heno Sissy even earned a Register of Merit in Quarter Horse racing. In total, Heno Sissy made 84 starts, won 25 races, and earned $34,407 on the track, the equivalent of about $350,000 today.
Piggin String’s most successful Quarter Horse starter was Rukin String. Rukin String was a bay stallion out of Piggin String’s old workmate Queenie. At two, Rukin String set a new track record in the Santa Rita Hotel Cup Juvenile at Rillito going 400 yards in 0:20.4 seconds. He also won the Central Bar and Grill Futurity and was named the 1952 AQHA Racing Champion Two-Year-Old Colt. In 1953, Rukin String won the Rillito Championship, Memorial Day Handicap, Parker 400 Handicap, and Arizona Derby while setting two more track records. He was honored with the titles of AQHA Racing Champion Three-Year-Old Colt and World Champion Horse. He continued racing until age five and set one more track record in the Barbra B. Handicap at Los Alamitos for 400 yards in 0:20.2 seconds. In total, Rukin String made 30 starts, won 15 races, and earned $21,894. He went on to sire 44 Race ROM-earners and four Performance ROM-earners, including multiple stakes winner Skippa String.
Another noteworthy racehorse by Piggin String was Running Iron. Running Iron was out of Wampus Kitty, by Red Man. He won the 1951 Northern Quarter Horse Breeders Association Futurity. Running Iron also set new track records at 250, 330, and 350 yards at Sportsmans Park, Bozeman, and Albuquerque respectively. He also equaled the track record at La Mesa Park for 350 yards in 0:18.3 seconds. Other track record setters by Piggin String include Gannadora and Marrano Hilo. Additional stakes winners include Black Mikette, Gunny Sack, and Hard and Fast.
In total, Piggin String sired 164 registered Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse foals in 18 foal crops. Among those foals were 82 race-winners, 56 ROM-earners, ten stakes winners, four Superior Race Award-earners, and one World Champion. He was the dominant Thoroughbred sire of Quarter Horse racehorses until horses such as Three Bars and Top Deck came along. Piggin String was on the leading sires and leading dam sires lists for nearly four decades. His daughters produced 188 starters and 93 ROM-earners. They also produced notable performers in cutting, roping, and barrel racing. Noteworthy horses out of Piggin String mares include Bambi Bar Miss, Hu Zat Riker, Kid Five, Mack a Gogo, Royal Bar, and Wiggy Bar.
Rukin and Frances sold their property in Arizona when Piggin String was in his late teens. They had no place to keep the stallion so they sold him to Rowland Stanfield in Oklahoma. In 1961, he passed away at the age of 19. Piggin String still serves as a strong reminder that sometimes the best Quarter Horses are Thoroughbreds.
Sources: Equibase, Equineline, All Breed Database, The Quarter Running Horse, The Quarter Horse Journal, Western Horseman, Speed and the Quarter Horse